First Guns, Now Tanks, Then What? - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
First Guns, Now Tanks, Then What?

The United States agreed to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine this week.

The aid comes in coordination with the United Kingdom’s announcement that it will send 12 Challenger 2 tanks and Germany’s donation of 14 Leopard 2 tanks. As significantly, Germany lifted its prohibition that blocked countries from granting German-made tanks to Ukraine. Sweden, Norway, Poland, and several other European countries operate Leopard 2s and appear eager to help the beleaguered nation.

“Together with our Allies and partners,” President Joe Biden explained in announcing the tank aid, “we’ve sent more than 3,000 armored vehicles, more than 8,000 [800] artillery systems, more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition, and more than 50 advanced multi-launch rocket systems, anti-ship and air defense systems, all to help counter Ukraine’s [Ukraine counter] brutal aggression that is happening because of Russia.”

The list, when looked at chronologically, indicates escalation. The tanks, all of which appear superior to the capable Cold War–era T-72s used by the invaders, represent the latest floor reached by the escalator.

Where is the ceiling?

Last month, the Biden administration dismissed the idea of providing tanks. This month the White House pledged to eventually provide 31 M1 Abrams. If the tanks do not prove difference-makers and Ukraine begs for fixed-wing aircraft, do we say no? The more advanced and potent the weaponry, the more provocative this all appears to Russia. The more provocative this appears to them, the closer we come to transforming from ally to combatant. When one country pays for the weaponry and munitions that kill another country’s sons — no matter the less visceral, more intellectual question of who fought on the side of the angels — then the country with dead sons might seek vengeance.

Nations often establish clear lines in the sand as warnings for other nations to cross under the penalty of war. One thinks of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s “line of death” in the Gulf of Sidra.

But nations must also establish boundaries on their own behavior to prevent themselves from fighting in wars they never intended to join. These lines, mostly blurry and faint, exist. But they do so without names because leaders rarely consider their actions provocative enough to induce war.

History shows this hubris as deadly.

A casus belli of Napoleon invading Russia involved his former ally no longer participating in a blockade against the United Kingdom. The U.S.’ placement of oil and other embargoes on Japan and its extension of the Lend-Lease program to China precipitated Pearl Harbor.

Our involvement in the Russia–Ukraine war surely represents something of a greater magnitude than our involvement in World War I prior to the German sinking of the Housatonic, Vigilancia, Aztec, and other American merchant ships.

So, precedents abound in wars starting over much less. Only one ignorant of history denies this but those ignorant of history unfortunately amount to greater than only one.

Putting Ukraine’s war on our credit card involves several downsides. Smaller concerns involve our $31 trillion debt and Ukraine’s rampant corruption. The primary concern involves provoking the wielder of most of the planet’s nuclear weapons.

The horror of a nuclear war or any smaller conflict with a global military power allows political actors to easily dismiss the prospect of it. But a horrible scenario should make us pay heed, not laugh it off. However unlikely, war with Russia is worse for U.S. interests than victory for Ukraine is good for them.

This necessitates internal red lines. Putin periodically calls this or that action by the West a crossing of a red line. What red lines do we impose upon our own conduct? What is a hard no?

We want Ukraine to win. What potential measures taken by the U.S. government that enable the Ukrainians to win do we rule out because they harm U.S. interests?

The escalation of our aid, in terms of money spent and the potency of the weaponry, indicates that we do not know the answer to this question.


How to Decide Which Weapons and Resources to Give to Ukraine

Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website,   
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